Thankfulness: The Gift (A Short Story)

This was the essay that got me a second placing in the Al-Mawrid writing competition. Alhamdulillah. Hope you’ll enjoy the short story!

Birthdays, weddings, housewarming parties, prize-giving ceremonies…

On happy occasions like these, we never fail to forget our thanks. We would thank everyone who came down to the event. We would thank those who gave us gifts. And at the end of the day, we would thank Allah, the ultimate giver, for blessing us with an abundance of love and joy on such an occasion, where everything went smoothly without any major disruptions, when everything went according to plan. Syukur, Alhamdulillah.

Whenever we are presented with a gift, we would always express our gratefulness to the giver.

It is always the case when we are given something, that we say our thanks.

But what if, something was taken away from us?

Would we still be thankful?

“You’ll be okay.” Fatima held Zaynab’s hands tight.

“InshaAllah…” Zaynab nodded her head slowly, and managed a faint smile.

They hugged each other for a long time, before Zaynab was wheeled into the surgical ward.

Fatima looked on at the disappearing figure, and slowly retreated into the waiting room. Her company for the next five hours was a book and an empty stomach. She paused at one of the pages for a moment when she felt increasingly restless, and started to recite a little zikr and du’a.

“Ya Rabb, please give her the strength and patience to get through this… Amin.”

The next thing she knew, she felt a tap on her shoulder, bringing her back to reality.

“She’s awake, come let’s see her.”

Fatima entered the bleak, uninviting and sterile-smelling room. The window blinds were drawn shut. The walls were a pale green, sparsely furnished with pictures of fruits and natural landscapes.

Fatima saw the outline of a frail lady in the patients’ uniform, breathing steadily under the blanket, blending in the sea of white. The tubes were criss-crossing everywhere; through her nostrils, across her chest, and even on her sides. It was a complicated maze of transparent tubes, looking like poisonous, harmful snakes.

“Fatima?”

A weak voice startled Fatima. She looked at the patient’s face. It was hard to take in. The lady did not look at all familiar, although she should be. It was her mother after all.

The next couple of weeks were a blur of routine in the hospital. The drug transmission session even went up to 4 hours per day. Fatima and her dad were constantly at Zaynab’s side, giving her moral support and ensuring that the therapy sessions went smoothly.

While the dose of medicine was dripping through her mother’s veins, Fatima whispered to her dad a question that has been nagging at the back of her mind ever since the day they got the news.

“Pa… why is it, that ma, of all people, is the one who gets this disease? Did she do anything wrong? Is Allah angry with us? Why does He take her health away?”

Fatima’s dad looked into his innocent 12-year old’s eyes, and felt a pang of sadness, but a need to explain to his inquisitive child.

“Fatima, do you know why Allah takes our health away?”

“No, but I don’t like it when I get ill.”

“Of course. Nobody does, dear. But Allah mentions in the Qur’an, that we might dislike a thing that is actually good for us, and we might like a thing that is actually bad for us. So for example, when you get a fever, which of course is not a nice thing to have, you have to understand that it is Allah’s way of showing He cares about you. When He takes away from us our health, He is actually giving us something in return. The sickness that he gives us is a way of cleansing our sins. He is giving us rewards, pahala, priceless rewards in our afterlife. We can’t see it now, in this earth, in dunya, but in the akhirah, you’ll realize how generous and merciful Allah is. When we think that he is taking away something from us, He is actually giving us something that is a hundred times better than what we lose. So the illness that we get, is actually a blessing in disguise, it is a way of cleansing our sins-”

“Just like this terminal illness that he gives Ma.”

“-yes. That’s right, sweetheart. You have to understand that Allah does not always give us what we think is good for us. Sometimes he wraps his presents in a way that might not be what we desire, but you’ll be surprised that what’s inside, is actually for our own good. He knows us best, my dear Fatima.”

“I understand, pa… Allah is actually giving us a gift that is wrapped differently, in a wrapping paper that we might not like. But there is actually a pleasant surprise underneath all this ugly wrapping paper, am I right?”

Fatima’s dad chuckled.

“Yes, you understand now Fatima? He gifts us illnesses, in order to expiate our sins. He gives us, in order to save us. He is the ultimate Giver. He knows what’s best for us. So what do we do when He keeps on giving, regardless of the type of gifts that we are getting? What should we say my dear Fatima?”

“Syukur, Alhamdulillah.”

How wonderful is Allah’s works? Even events that we think are unfortunate, are actually a blessing, and a way of elevating our ‘rank’ as a believer. We need to always be thankful, every day, every hour, every minute of our life, from the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep. We need to always remember to express our syukur or thankfulness, because we human beings tend to forget the littlest blessings showered upon us every day, like time, wealth, and health. And when He takes some of these blessings away, we will still remember that it is for our own good in the hereafter. It is actually a gift disguised in an “ugly wrapping paper”, like what Fatima said. The gift in this world may not be what we think we want, but it is actually a gift that we need to be thankful for – because we need to realize that through this perceived misfortune that we face on earth, His returns and rewards to us are actually worth so much more.

“On the Day of Resurrection, when people who had suffered affliction are given their reward, those who were healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world.”

– Al-Tirmidhi

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